Harris' top aide must go, Md. Senate president says

Miller says Szeliga's candidacy for House violates Assembly personnel policy

February 18, 2010|By Julie Bykowicz | julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

The Democratic president of the Maryland Senate wants Sen. Andrew P. Harris to fire his chief of staff - a directive characterized Wednesday by the Republican lawmaker as "Chicago-style" bare-knuckle politics.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, in turn, accused Harris, an outspoken Baltimore County doctor who is running for Congress, of "politicizing a personnel matter." Miller said Kathy Szeliga must stop working for Harris or stop running for the House of Delegates.

A letter Miller sent Harris on Tuesday states that Szeliga must resign or be terminated by Friday because she is "in violation of the personnel policy's prohibition against employees of the legislature running for state legislative office." Miller refers to an attorney general's opinion he obtained that he said led to his decision.

Harris and Szeliga said ethics and human resources officials told them weeks ago that she could keep her chief of staff position until she officially files with the state Board of Elections, which she has not done.

According to the Maryland General Assembly personnel policy, "once the employee has filed with the Election Board to run for a state legislative office, the employee must resign his or her position in the General Assembly."

The attorney general's office advised Miller that the candidacy of Szeliga, who registered a campaign account last May and had raised about $13,000 as of January, is far enough along that she should not be working for the legislature. Szeliga, a Republican, is running for a House seat in Harris' district.

Harris called the attorney general's opinion bogus and said he is talking with attorneys about his options. He said he won't fire Szeliga.

Harris, who is running for Democrat Frank Kratovil's seat in the House of Representatives this fall, said he believes Miller's demand is a political power play, pointing to the timing. This week, Harris pushed a plan to scale back state lawmakers' pensions and pay, a move that Miller believed to be out of turn.

The Senate president refused Wednesday to give Harris an extra day to make technical fixes to an amendment he hoped to offer that would put lawmakers into a 401(k)-style pension system.

"The coincidence is stunning," Harris said. "This has come completely out of the blue."

But Miller said he had received a complaint about the Szeliga situation weeks ago, long before the pension debate emerged. Miller said he likes Szeliga and once asked her to work for him. The complaint came from the Democratic Central Committees of Baltimore and Harford counties.

Harris said there are "different standards for different people" in the state legislature, though he could not identify any legislative staff members who had run for office.

A similar situation arose last summer when Lisa Baugher, a legislative aide for Del. Rick Weldon, a Frederick County independent, sought a waiver of the personnel policy.

Baugher, a Democrat, had announced that she was interested in challenging Republican Sen. Alex X. Mooney of Frederick for his seat. Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch sought guidance from the attorney general and, after receiving it, told her she would not be granted a waiver.

Baugher has since decided not to run and works as an aide to Republican Del. Charles A. Jenkins.

Baltimore Sun reporter Annie Linskey contributed to this article.

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